For Some Celtic Directors, Tomorrow’s AGM Really Ought To Be The Last Dance.

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Football fans tend not to focus overmuch on other sports. Why would we? We watch the best one, the most exciting one and the smartest one. As football fans, we tend to overlook other games, which are interesting and sexy in their own right.

I’ve never been a basketball fan and never cared much for any aspect of the game except, for obvious reasons, whenever the subject of a tie-in between ourselves and our namesakes from Boston come up, as they do from time to time. But there’s a documentary on Netflix about the Chicago Bulls success story with Michael Jordan in a starring role which I recommend that every football fan watches and especially every Celtic fan.

It’s called The Last Dance, and it begins with the opening day of the final campaign that incredible team would spend together.

Their coach was leaving and Jordan had vowed not to play for anyone else. So he, too, was on the way out. Scott Pippen, another of the lynchpins of the team, had made up his mind to go because he had been massively undervalued by the organisation who had signed him on a dreadful long-term contract and refused to change a single bit of it, even after he’d become one of the most effective players ever to play the game.

Jordan was, then, widely regarded as the greatest player in the history of basketball and he still is although LeBron James has staked a good claim and has acquired more NBA points than Jordan ever did, but it’s Jordan’s record of titles that makes him the best; he played in six finals with Chicago and won every one of them, in two series of three in a row; the 1991-1993 team and the 1996-1998 side. They are, to this day, the only six titles in Chicago’s history.

That season started badly because the club had announced that Phil Jackson, the coach who had won all six of those titles, wasn’t having his contract renewed.

This annoyed the players, in particular Jordan, who believed that he was the key to the success of the team. (Jackson ended up an 11 time winner, after moving to the Lakers where he won another five Championships, so Jordan clearly had a point. The man knew his business.)

But what really set the grenade off was a dismissive remark by the Bull’s General Manager, Jerry Krause, whose nonchalance about losing the best coach in the league and the best player ever to play the game in the same window was expressed in a comment he made to the media before that campaign started where he said, “”Players and coaches don’t win championships; organizations win championships.” This lit the fuse for the meltdown.

And yet the meltdown didn’t happen, because Jackson and Jordan didn’t let it. It bound the dressing room and the team more closely together, and the coach himself created a special series of protocols for that campaign which he bound in a volume called The Last Dance.

The documentary is about not only that final campaign, but about how the six titles were won and how Krause, who by the way was treated with lamentable disrespect by Jordan and others, wrecked any chance of the Bulls having future success by trying to prove that theorem which has been disproved time and time again; that its organisations that win things, not coaches and players.

You can already see where this is going, right?

From the moment those words are spoken in the documentary I was hearing Peter Lawwell and this Celtic board, this Celtic board which believes that the successes of the past dozen years are entirely down to them and that all the coaches and players here do is facilitate on their behalf.

We all know that some of them believe that.

We know Lawwell does. They think their judgement is bulletproof. Their arrogance and egotism have led us nepotism and cronyism and interference in stuff that none of them are qualified to get involved in.

All of them will be re-elected tomorrow, in no small part because they have enough votes from institutional shares and their buddies to make sure of it.

The idea that the AGM functions as any sort of democratic process is manifestly laughable. The idea that anything fundamental will ever change at such an event is for the birds; it just won’t happen.

So we are stuck with these people for another year, but I think it’s high time that some of them had the self-awareness to know that it’s over, that they’ve made whatever contribution they have to make, that Celtic needs fresh thinking and new ideas and that it’s time some of them moved on.

Ideally, I’d like to see them all move on but that’s not going to happen either in a single sweep.

But over the course of the next few years, I’d very much like to see a real change in the boardroom taking place. For these current directors, this should be their final time around the table for an annual general meeting where they are seeking re-election.

If they go at the end of the next term, they go on a note of triumph and they would be widely acclaimed by much of the support for leaving us in a good position.

The longer the stay the clearer it becomes though that these people are out of ideas and are starting to toxify the brand.

I make no apologies for putting this in such harsh language.

These people have made momentous mistakes.

They have failed to reform Scottish football. The game is in a dangerous state, one that might be about to get more dangerous still with proposed SFA changes to the multi-ownership model which protects Scottish teams from predatory organisations which just want to accumulate assets in the sport.

Their failure to get historical justice for the events of 2012 will forever hang around their necks, and combined with the failure to get reform is why I hold them solely responsible for the Ibrox club’s single title win in the COVID campaign.

Their failure to get reforms allowed that club to spend money it didn’t have, and the hiring of Lennon sent the club on a downward trajectory from a place where it had never been in a stronger position.

I believe their interference with Rodgers’ transfer plans, and their failure to deliver on his targets, was the reason he left Celtic the first time, and that was symbolised by the calamitous failure to do a deal for John McGinn.

I believe they are in danger of repeating the same mistake, because these people have convinced themselves that they are geniuses at this stuff and that the success of the team this past dozen years is entirely down to them.

Their judgement is questionable and their incestuous hiring policies are indefensible. The decision to give Michael Nicholson the job as CEO might have worked out well; I think it has. But it was a dreadful decision without the least justification.

The failure to conduct a proper search for the right person is, as far as I’m concerned, an abrogation of their responsibilities towards the shareholders. The decision to hire Mark Lawwell is even more scandalous; nobody will ever convince me that there were not vastly better candidates for that role.

Celtic does not belong to these people. It’s not their little private members club to do with whatever they want. Far from being the all-knowing infallible masters of the universe they think they are, they are actually responsible for several high profile mistakes which smarter, or less arrogant, people would not have made.

The second hiring of Neil Lennon (indeed, the first hiring of Neil Lennon) is an obvious case in point, and even if they’ve convinced themselves that it was an effective appointment, I would draw their attention to the fact that Lennon is still without a job since being sacked in Cyprus … this is not a guy who would ever have gotten the job on merit.

Nobody else at the top level in football believes Lennon is a decent coach.

And this sort of misjudgement is exactly what you get when a small group of people are in charge of any organisation for too long and have shut out any and all outside thinking. After a while there are no fresh ideas, only re-treads of old ones.

Consider, for example, that not one of our most recent managerial appointments has been the result of a major search for the right person. Eddie Howe might have been, but we didn’t get him.

Let’s look at the last six managerial appointments.

There was Lennon, who was an internal appointment as he’d been coaching the youths.

But we gave him the job on an interim basis and then confirmed that he had it full time. No search was conducted for a better fit.

We replaced Lennon with a guy we’d been auditioning as his number two. When Lennon decided to quit, we hired Ronny Deila instead, with bothering to look for a better coach. We just took the guy who was already on the radar and gave him the job.

Rodgers, we got spot on. But he was already in the contacts book of Celtic and knew Desmond well and had a long-standing affection for the club.

Following his departure, Lennon got it for a second time.

We then went for Howe, missed him, and immediately turned to the Lawwell contacts book, where they plucked Ange from Japan.

We didn’t spend any time looking for another Eddie Howe, we grabbed the first guy Lawwell & Sons suggested and we got luckier than any lottery winner ever has. Don’t try to convince yourself that this was a reasoned, rational piece of decision making because it wasn’t, it was reflexive, done in a panic and incredibly risky.

And having hired Lennon twice in the space of a dozen years, this board then went back to Rodgers and hired him for a second time.

Yeah, I think it was a great decision but that’s never hidden the obvious truth that it was also a lazy one without the least imagination.

In the space of a dozen years, we’ve hired two managers twice, the guy who was supposed to be the assistant to one of them and made a left-field appointment out of last-minute desperation when the guy we’d chased for months didn’t sign the deal.

Our CEO was an internal appointment. Our chairman used to be our CEO. Our head of scouting is his son. We hired a former manager as a consultant and two of his sons now work for the club. I could go on, but you get the point.

Organisations which behave like this, which promote on the basis of personal loyalty and patronage, get themselves into trouble, if not regularly then catastrophically. When they enter a period of crisis, they get frozen in the headlights because meaningful decision-making processes are non-functioning and accountability is non-existent.

Some of these people have been on our board for over a decade. That’s too long in any other corporate environment.

To carry on this long is not about putting Celtic first, it is ego, it is driven solely by their own desire to be at the centre of a club which they now think of as theirs. Some of them know their ability to meaningful chart a course for our future is virtually zero; hanging on beyond this point is an act of selfishness.

They’ll be re-elected tomorrow, and they could go on being re-elected for years because of the lack of a structure to hold them properly to account.

We’re an analogue club in a digital age, and that’s not me saying that. The last extensive independent review into how things work at Celtic said it, and it is as true now as it was then.

These guys look at the success we’ve had on the pitch and really do believe it is down to them. But in fact it is down to a handful of outstanding managers and their ability to craft teams out of what this board deems them worthy to have … the coaches and the players brought those trophies and titles to our club and at every step of the way they’ve had to do so in the face of interference and second guessing from people who are entirely unqualified to make those sort of judgements.

On those few occasions when they have given driven, determined managers total control we have reaped the benefits. They still think that’s down to them.

So yeah, they’ll be re-elected, but it’s not a vote of confidence.

A lot of people will vote to re-elect them because there are no alternative options … that’s the situation they’ve created. The rest of the votes will come from themselves and the others around the table, them and invisible shell companies which I suspect represent some familiar names, protected by offshore banking laws.

It’s time some of these people realised that the gig is up. They should put this club first, instead of acting out of a desire to continue ruling the roost.

This AGM should be the Last Dance.

Once it’s over, we should never have to go through this re-election farce again. We should have set term limits for directors so we keep freshening up the club and its thinking. These guys have nothing more to offer.

It’s time for some of them to voluntarily leave the stage.

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  • John S says:

    The one lamentable, calamitous failure of the Celtic Board was in ignoring meaningful sporting reform within the game since 2012. The repercussions for Scottish society itself depended on the influence exerted at that time and ongoing.

  • Celticfcman says:

    Absolutely wonderful article! I remember all that with the Bulls and it was sad. Perfect way to compare the great Celtic success with Chicago. I honestly could not find one bit I didn’t agree with. This is not a new situation, as I see it all the time in sports, but it does not change the fact that these people have a job to do, and they simply do not perform their duties in total. While neglecting their own job duties, they veer into other jobs at the club and disrupt and impede the professionals (players/coaches) who are trying to do what they were hired for. Power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely. Nothing will change, but your article perfectly illustrates the opportunity costs borne from these empty suits.

  • Matty says:

    Wow Jamesy, for someone who regularly gives many both barrels in your articles, you sure don’t like someone questioning you. I agree with Don Stewart, Lennon gave me my best Celtic experience in my lifetime by beating a great Barca side. I agree that you very regularly berate Lennon. It is not just this article. Be more humble!!!

    • James Forrest says:

      Don Stewart sent me a comment I didn’t post. I was responding to that. After I read that comment I very seriously considered just deleting the first one as well. He’s tried to post a reply which I’m not posting becasue he’s still behaving like a yahoo. Enough said?

      I don’t berate Lennon. I berate the people who hired him, the only board of a club our size anywhere in Europe who believe he should be a manager.

      Lennon should never have been near the Celtic manager’s job. No other top club thinks he’s good enough. Not one. That’s a verdict not limited to my own beliefs. If it was he’d be in a gig right now. It’s got nothing to do with being humble or being arrogant or anything else, it’s a fact. The decision makers in football think the same about him as me.

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